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White Noise: May 2015

Friday, 29 May 2015

Basic Soul Unit – You Knew EP

Label: Dolly

Basic Soul Unit, aka Toronto’s Stuart Li, is one of the dance world’s great lurkers. Rather than releasing one mammoth single and then running out of steam, rather than headlining festivals one year and vanishing the next, Li has been quietly and consistently producing excellent dance tracks for the last ten years. His music remains firmly in the 4/4 realm but skitters darkly between deep house and straight-up techno, always routed in subtle textures and hardware but lacking neither muscle nor finesse.

It’s quite an impressive summary, but Li is quite an impressive producer. For his second release on Steffi’s Dolly imprint BSU is in peak dancefloor territory, turning up tracks that somehow manage to feel both raw and subtle. The title track looks to Shed with its rhythmic skeleton, balancing frustrated broken-machinery drums with a dependable kick. It’s a stark tune, a fact only emphasised by the single stroke of colour applied: a hollow chime that brings a real dramatic flavour to the chugging groove. Li flips the tune for the Deep Mix on the B-side, stripping some of the distortion from the drums and adding some icy gleaming keys to the second half. Either side would go down a storm in the club.

Delve Into harks back to a certain moment when producers were applying the vocal dynamics of bass music to techno rhythms, a sound that unfortunately never really took off. The chopped vocals add urgency and warmth to a beautifully detailed drum section, running over a range of hollow and clipped timbres, adorned with swift synth stabs and incongruous bird calls.

For the final act Li lets off the throttle a little. Snow Drift is a slick cut, a hyperactive bassline anchoring filtering synthwork and drums pushed to the back of the mix. It’s a pleasant enough track but lacks the killer instinct of the record’s A-side. Still, as a package You Knew shows that BSU seem incapable of putting a stylistic foot wrong, a prime selection of club tracks that are elegant and functional, sure to ignite the room wherever they’re played.


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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Nebraska - Stand Your Ground

Label: Mister Saturday Night

New York’s Mister Saturday Night has been a little quiet lately following the release of a label-defining compilation and mix CD last year. While they might be starting the year a little late, in May the imprint is flying out of the stables with not one but two great EPs, one from local Gunnar Haslam and this EP from another sorely-missed voice in the house scene, London’s Nebraska, who released a great album in 2011 and then totally disappeared.

Nebraska’s re-emergence is even more welcome given the quality of this EP, which is a masterclass in groove and execution, chanelling several distinct styles and nailing every one. Little Chan opens on a busy note, a flurry of bleeping synths, set in call and response with a swift acid burble while a locked rhythm subtly gives way to a straightened boogie bounce. The Stoop is a low-slung exercise in funk, jazzy keys rolling out over a confident strut and metronome handclaps.

Having started on a high, Nebraska impressively ups his game for the flipside, where title track Stand Your Ground fuses the best of the A-side’s two attributes, a swaggering groove visited by a series of glistening synths soaring straight into the stratosphere, melding the futuristic with the decidedly earthly to brilliant effect. Then Emotional Rescue rounds off the package with a smash-hit disco number out of nowhere, its filtering brass and looped vocals sure to bring euphoric vibes to the ‘floor. Stand Your Ground is quite a coup – a rare house EP where every track more than merits club play, and easily stands as one of the best releases in MSN’s already-impressive canon.


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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Linkwood - Expressions

Label: Firecracker Recordings

Edinburgh’s Linkwood is a producer’s producer. He takes his sweet time with each release, and whether he sets his mind to emotive beatless pieces, bristling analog house or smoky Detroit joints (like his sterling debut Miles Away), his productions are always right on the money. There’s an uncommon richness to Linkwood’s sound, especially heard on the right system, and here on sophomore LP Expressions he offers a wealth of goodness for detailed listeners and cherry-picking DJs alike.

The album kicks off with two fathoms-deep beatless pieces, Sonrise a bucolic concoction of soothing strings, Outside In a more uncertain, but equally impressive, piece of sound design whose melodies roll like clouds and break like thunder, underlined by pattering rain. There’s also an abstraction and experimentation we’ve not heard from Linkwood before, from Coral’s microcosm of chittering melodies to Sigma 3’s filtering rhythms, via the dreamy Reef Walking¸ which rolls and breaks like jungle that’s had its mechanical insides replaced by mist.

Whether these more exploratory tunes are a draw or not will be down to individual taste, but the fidelity and care put into these sounds throughout is beyond reproach. This is an artist who deeply cares about the minutiae of how his music sounds. Besides, there’s plenty of variety on offer, including a few luxurious club numbers. Off Kilter (No Midi Mix) draws on a hazy optimism similar to Lnrdcroy’s excellent debut (which recently saw a vinyl re-release on Linkwood's home imprint, Firecracker), but cast in hi-def with radiant strings and a fleet-footed rhythm that doesn’t skimp on the muscle. Even in his most deliberate dancefloor cuts, the wealth of melody and detail in these tunes is striking. Ignorance Is Bliss (Live Mix) sets a bassline wandering under a gorgeous cloud of synthwork that shifts and coils like water, while the stellar title track Expressions jumps into action with jabbing keys and smoky, funk-referencing synth washes.

It’s been four years since the last Linkwood emission, and six since his debut LP, and you can hear how slowly these tracks have matured, offering a richness and attention to detail uncommon in the fast-paced dance scene, particularly when it comes to albums. Whether you come for the gorgeous ambient meditations, the compelling club cuts or the whole opulent package, Expressions is an album you’re not going to want to leave anytime soon.


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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Roger West - Wasted House

Label: In Paradisium

Electronic music producers aren’t precious about keeping their medium pristine. While few films are shot through a muddy lens and books tend to be printed on clear white paper, musicians are happy to subject their compositions to destruction and distortion, leaving something mangled, limping, but often engaging. There’s a power in that deterioration that can be seen everywhere from William Basinski’s Disntegration Loops to today’s glut of lofi analog house records. Everything that lives will one day fall apart, and it’s powerful to hear that represented in our art.

French producer Somaticae, who has here donned a new alias as Roger West, doesn’t go as far as some have in the mutilation of our beloved sound. But this EP’s title is something of a mission statement. His sound isn’t lofi per se, though it does have traits in common with the recent output of LIES or Opal Tapes. On these inventive tracks some colours are allowed to bleed through, ghosts of dance music’s cleaner, pop-leaning siblings left to pick their way through the murk.

While there might not be a clarity to West’s sound, there is certainty a confidence to his vision. These sounds are corrupted but sacrifice neither force nor catchiness. It's a triumph of execution. Moldy House opens like a horror movie, wisps of melody half-seen fleeing through trees, before a heavy stomp and pitch-shifting vocals far beyond recognition introduce the main act. Synths are deoxygenated, clutter gives way to silence, only the kick drum is privileged with regularity and full-frequency resonance. When even the 4/4 fades, the disparate melodic elements kick out, lost, before they too dissolve.

West isn’t content to let one sound do the talking. Each of the EP’s four tracks offers a fresh perspective on his mud-spattered sound. Washing House is the busiest, its rhythm an endless spin cycle, whirring synths and even a desperate saxophone dragged into a nightmarish vortex. Here another striking outro, the sound pans out like water sucked from a drain, and after a moment’s silence a manic fifteen second coda of lunatic brass and wildly filtering synths, a musical death rattle.

Soaked House takes the energy down a notch, its wandering melody unbound by a kick drum, subjected instead to dramatic descending toms and hi-hats like razors. We’re even given an emotive coda for the gorgeous finale End House, where a fleet-footed piano line dances in and out of a cloud of sonic debris, joyous in its moments of clarity, melancholic and distant when it is concealed. It encapsulates the pleasure of this EP; that clattering distortion can make us want to dance and feel, that even through destruction we can find light.


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